Once the villain, forever the villain. Then your enemies don’t have to aim carefully. Just throw anything at hand, a mud ball, a hand grenade, an ink bomb. Maybe something will stick.
Chris Christie is everybody’s villain now. Only time will tell, as the cliche goes, whether he has told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about New Jersey’s most famous traffic jam.
Until we get to the facts, The New York Times will supply the broadsides, which will probably turn out to be more interesting than the facts, anyway.
The editors of The Times imagined they had the smoking gun (or maybe it was merely their own smoking indignation) when they printed the assertion of the lawyer for David Wildstein, the former Port Authority director and onetime Christie associate now campaigning for mercy from the district attorney, that “evidence exists” that the governor had the facts, or some of them, when the lanes at the western end of the George Washington Bridge across the Hudson River were arbitrarily closed, scrambling traffic in that monumental traffic jam.
“Evidence exists.” This is “sourcing” that would never have got past a tough old city editor on the country daily in Podunk, nor, in fact, would it have got past an editor at The New York Times when it was the agenda-setting newspaper for American newspapers.
There might or might not be any facts in the broadsides, but that’s the way it goes now. Tough editors have been mostly chased out of newsrooms — indeed, there are fewer newsrooms to be chased out of — and in the Wild West media of our times the rule is, “print the factoid,” Norman Mailer’s famous word for something that sounds like it might be a fact, or seems to be a fact, but in fact is not a fact.
“Evidence exists.” We haven’t seen a standard like this one since old Joe McCarthy stood up before the Ohio County Women’s Republican Club in Wheeling, W.Va., on a blustery February day in 1950 and said, “I have here in my hand a list of 205 known Communists in the State Department.”
Nobody actually got to see the list, which someone later suggested was a receipt for his laundry. But then the fun began.
Mr. Christie, protecting his reputation as anyone would, scorched The New York Times over the weekend for “sloppy reporting” and the newspaper’s suggestion “that there was actually ‘evidence’ [of Christie complicity] when it was a letter alleging that ‘evidence exists.’”
Calling out “them lyin’ newspapers” is usually a fool’s game, even when the newspaper is lying. Mark Twain warned that “you never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
Nevertheless, the man who runs the newspaper can spill ink all over himself, too. The New York Times had earlier spilled a few gallons of ink on a 7,000-word apologia for Hillary Clinton and her mishandling of the State Department’s response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, leading to the deaths of the ambassador and three other officials at the hands of an Islamic mob.
The manifesto, widely regarded now as a lame attempt to apply a coat of whitewash to Miss Hillary, regurgitated the early fantastical tale, put out by the White House, that the attack on the consulate was not plotted and performed by al Qaeda, but was a spontaneous explosion of religious fervor by a mob avenging a video, made by an obscure Egyptian videographer, “disrespecting” the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
It looked to everyone that the newspaper was protecting its investment in the Democrats and Miss Hillary. She has never explained where she was the night of the Benghazi attack, or what she was doing that kept her from paying attention to business.
She says only that she “regrets” the incident. Who would doubt it? Benghazi is the coral reef on which the Clinton candidacy is most likely to founder.
Chris Christie is the latest threat to the Democrats in 2016, damaged but still a threat. The editor of the editorial page of The New York Times says the Republicans are in “fear” that Miss Hillary will run for president, but insists his editorials are sanitary because there is no “editorial/newsroom conspiracy” to help her.
There’s no argument here. You don’t need a conspiracy when you’ve got a consensus. Who can doubt there’s such a consensus at work at The New York Times?
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.